3 things we learned during Georgia's 2024 legislative session

The final day of Georgia's 2024 legislative session bled into the early morning hours of Friday, March 29, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

The bills kept coming until nearly 1 a.m. 

But with papers tossed in the air and shouts of “sine die,” the Georgia General Assembly session finally came to a close.

Over the course of a 40-day session, legislators considered several hundred bills, passed some sweeping changes to Georgia law and left some big ticket items on the cutting room floor. Since Georgia’s legislature is technically a biennium which began in 2023, bills that failed to pass will need to start over next year. 

With the session behind them, lawmakers now can turn their focus to the 2024 elections as they resume fundraising and campaigning with primary races just two months away. Gov. Brian Kemp still needs to sign the litany of bills sitting on his desk – many with provisions that will immediately have an impact on Georgians and their communities. 

Here are a few things we learned during the 2024 legislative session:

  1. The House let some of the most controversial legislation on LGBTQ youth go unpassed, but some voters’ doubts about election integrity are still a powerful force among Republican politicians.

In the final week of the legislative session, Senate Republicans cleared two controversial measures focused on education and transgender youth.

Both bills originally began as anodyne measures with bipartisan support. One would have required opioid antagonists to be stocked in some public buildings. Another promoted mental health resources for student-athletes.

Both were hijacked by Senate Republicans. HB 1170 would have banned puberty blockers for minors seeking medical treatment for gender dysphoria. HB 1104 would have prohibited sex education before sixth grade, blocked transgender girls from girl’s school sports teams, prevented transgender children from using the locker room that matches their gender identity and allowed parents to receive notifications for every book their child checked out of the school library.

Those measures were never brought up for a vote in the House, where Speaker Jon Burns has put some of the more controversial social issues on ice.

“The House has continued to deliver on those issues that matter most to the people of our state: cutting taxes, improving and investigating in our education, strengthening our public safety and improving the quality of life for each and every Georgian,” Burns told reporters after gaveling out the chamber. “You know, some folks choose politics, the House chooses results.”

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington speaks to reporters after the House adjourns Sine Die in the early hours of Friday, March 29, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

However, a bill packed with changes to Georgia election law received final passage in the Senate just after midnight. SB 189 establishes grounds to sustain a voter challenge, removes the Secretary of State from the State Election Board, eliminates ballot QR codes to tabulate votes by 2026 and allows for the use of hand-marked paper ballots in some local races beginning in 2025. 

Republicans said the measure would curb superfluous voter challenges, but Democrats accused the GOP of bending over backward to appease election deniers – and said the changes make it more likely voter challenges will succeed.

“I can’t believe that we are justifying sloppy and rushed policy choices by saying we need to bring more confidence to our elections, when you know just as well as I do that there is a very vocal minority out there who will never be confident in the process so long as their candidate is not the winner,” Democratic Rep. Saira Draper said before the vote.

Georgia Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler gives her farewell address on Sine Die at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday, March 28, 2024. Butler is retiring this year. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)
  1. Democrats and Republicans came together on several meaningful bipartisan measures, but Medicaid expansion has eluded Democrats for another year.

The legislature overwhelmingly moved to expand the state child tax credit to $4,000 – a policy lever that has been shown to curb child poverty. The state budget expanded resources for pre-kindergarten and raised pay for teachers. And lawmakers approved basic protections for tenants. 

But despite cautious optimism that Republicans were finally open to fully expanding Medicaid, the push never got to the floor of either chamber. Georgia is one of just 10 states that has yet to expand Medicaid. 

Ultimately, Republicans said they wanted to give Gov. Brian Kemp’s more limited program time to play out. But even many Republicans acknowledge that the plan has enrolled far fewer people than anticipated and leaves generous federal dollars on the table. 

“Every single day we spend in the legislature, we see people making the calculation about how to gain and hold onto the majority,” said Democratic Rep. Michelle Au. “But what is the point of having that power if you cannot use it for such a clear and powerful good?”

Torn up copies of bills on the floor of the Georgia House chamber at the Georgia State Capitol on Friday, March 29, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)
  1. Sessions are often defined not only by the measures that pass.

Lawmakers did accomplish some unfinished business from last session.

Republicans achieved a long-standing priority: providing funding for some public school families that want to send their children to private schools.

The $6,500 voucher program would be available only to children enrolled in some of Georgia’s lowest-performing schools. 

“We have a lot more to go, but this was a great session for Georgia’s students, our children and our grandchildren and our state’s future,” said Republican House Pro Tem Jan Jones.

Republicans have long pushed to give parents more choices for their kids’ education and this year, finally overcame the protests of Democrats and some rural Republicans who worried about diverting resources from struggling public schools. 

Lawmakers celebrate the end of Georgia’s 2024 legislative session on Friday, March 29, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Lawmakers also approved a bill codifying anti-Semitism as it applies to Georgia’s hate crimes law. And they rolled back hospital regulations known as Certificate of Need.

But some much-discussed items did not clear the final hurdles. Perennial efforts to legalize online sports betting failed to garner enough support this year, as lawmakers haggled over the details of how the revenue would be used. A push to cut back on Georgia’s film tax credit also did not pass after weeks of back-and-forth. 

A move to pause construction of a titanium mine near the Okefenokee Swamp passed the House, but never came for a vote in the Senate. And legislation to create a panel to review compensation for the wrongfully convicted also failed to make it to the governor’s desk.

Lawmakers will be back next year to redouble their efforts on these bills — but first, the 2024 election will determine who returns and the balance of power in the two chambers.